This is a crunch match for both teams in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship and for South Africans it does not get bigger than the north versus south derby of the DHL Stormers versus the Vodacom Bulls.
It also won't get much bigger on Saturday evening in Cape Town than the one-on-one showdown of the No 8 young guns Evan Roos and Cameron Hanekom of the Vodacom Bulls.
Whoever wins on Saturday takes huge strides for the South African Shield and individually Roos will want to establish the pecking order of those chasing the Springboks No 8 jersey vacated by the retired Duane Vermeulen.
Hanekom exploded into the 2023-24 Vodacom URC as a force from the base of the scrum and quickly established himself as a standout talent as the Vodacom Bulls surged to five wins in seven matches. His opposite number, the dynamic Roos also has a big appetite for collisions and adds an abrasive physicality to a formidable DHL Stormers back row that is completed by ballhawk Deon Fourie and tearaway flanker Hacjivah Dayimani on the blindside.
Double World Cup winner Vermeulen has abdicated his throne as the Springboks’ thundering No 8 and Roos and Hanekom lead the next generation of back-row powerhouses who pride themselves on ensuring the pack continues to rumble.
An uncompromising player in the mould of Vermeulen, Hanekom has hit the ground running in a breakthrough season in Pretoria, with an MVP performance on his competition debut against the Scarlets in Round 1, which included a brace of tries.
The 21-year-old dominated the stats for carries and metres gained in the early rounds of the competition, and talk around his physical presence at the breakdown and set piece turned up another level when it was revealed he is eligible to play for Wales, through his grandmother.
Reflecting on his sudden emergence this season, which drew comparisons to the legendary Vermeulen, Hanekom said: “It’s been an amazing experience, I’ve been learning a lot and can’t wait to learn more.
“Duane is one of my role models… Obviously I’m trying to make a name for myself, but if I’m being referred to as the next Duane I won’t mind it!”
Roos, 23, is no stranger to the hype machine. He too was touted as South Africa’s next heavyweight ball-carrier based on standout performances for the DHL Stormers teams that powered to back-to-back Vodacom URC finals, a contribution that was rewarded with a Springbok call-up in 2022.
Having packed so much experience into the last 20 months, including the disappointment of missing out on selection for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, a recharged Roos has thrust himself into 2023-24 with renewed vigour and is poised to make a resounding impact against a Vodacom Bulls side that he boasts a 6-0 record against in the competition in the past two seasons.
Blessed with an industrial leg drive, and surprising turn of speed for a 110kg loose forward, Roos helped the DHL Stormers clinch the inaugural Vodacom URC and then hogged the awards ceremony by being named the League’s Player of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season, Fans’ Player of the Season, Next-Gen Player of the Season and a place in the Dream Team.
“Thinking about where I was to where I am now, it seems surreal. A lot has happened very quickly,” Roos said. “And regardless of whether I’m in the Bok mix or not, I’m always fired up for a season with the DHL Stormers.
“The Vodacom URC is super-competitive by nature, and we want to do as well as we can and get into a final again.”
While Vermeulen leaves a tremendous legacy in his retirement, the talent coming through the South African pipeline is, literally, thick and fast. History has repeatedly shown that the next South Africa great is coming off a conveyor belt of talent that never stops running, and the DHL Stadium is expected to serve as the runway when Roos and Hanekom taxi out of the tunnel on Saturday.
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